Kitchen Garden Initiative By Koshika

by | Feb 23, 2022

Back in August 2021, I was reading The Obesity Code. The author, Dr. Jason Fung, prescribes an intermittent fasting diet, which restricts eating to a fixed schedule. Halfway through the book, I realized that part of the problem why intermittent fasting won’t seem to work out for me is that there is food around me, almost at all times. It’s hard to resist eating when the food is right there. I have never slept on an empty stomach. My go-to activity, whenever I found myself bored, was to munch on a packet of Lays. My hangout plans revolved around discovering new places to eat. Peppy Zomato notifications constantly had me surfing through reviews of new restaurants and cafés in town.

My relationship with food is something I have been thinking about a lot, since I joined India Fellow. As a part of my fellowship, I reached Panna, Madhya Pradesh to work with Koshika. It gave me an opportunity to go into the remote villages several times and interact with the locals. My brain seemed to focus on one particular question.

In the era of Swiggy and Zomato taking over our urban lives, what does food and nutrition mean to people who live in the poorest regions of India?

My inclination towards food naturally led me to ask them, Aap din mein kitni baar khaana khaate hain? Aur kya kya khaate hain? To my surprise, a few villagers were not eating more than once a day. The contents of their meals consisted of matha and chawal. (buttermilk and rice). In its absence, it’s either roti with salt or just plain rice. These insights are on the basis of talking to 28 women.

The sheer lack of options when it came to meals, and the number of times it was actually consumed, left me numb in the beginning. However, as I spent more time in the community, some patterns became clear. There is a reason why a lot of them eat only one square meal per day. Women are engaged in household chores for most part of their morning. From looking after children, grazing cattle and collecting firewood, all of which is quite labor-intensive, they do everything.

Their first meal is a late lunch, after which they directly eat the next day. My naivety led me to ask a woman whether men in her family contribute in the kitchen to which she chuckled and said, “Didi unhe toh paani bhi chahiye hota hai toh mujhse mangwaate hain”. It was implied that if she doesn’t cook, there is no meal for the rest of the household.

Coming back to why they eat what they eat, the reasons are manifold. Since Panna is a drought prone region, the cropping patterns are such that they mostly grow wheat, makka (corn), chana and sarso (mustard). There isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to vegetables, so naturally it’s absent from their diet for many months of the year.

The way to procure vegetables and ration is through weekly markets which are located at least 20-30 kms from these villages. Green vegetables like spinach and cauliflower are not affordable . Hence, people end up sticking to the basics like tomato, onion and potato. A woman mentioned, “Ghar mein jo hai usse kaam chala lete hain. Sabzi nahi hoti toh khichdi ya mathachawal kha lete hai.

Poshan Vaatika – A kitchen garden initiative by Koshika

In these forest areas of Panna, malnutrition and anaemia are frequently diagnosed among women and children. Keeping this context in mind, Koshika decided to set up kitchen gardens (poshan vaatika) in villages in the year 2020, since nutrition makes for a major component when it comes to health.

We work in ten villages. Two people from each of these villages were trained, and they in turn trained the rest of the villagers, on growing and maintaining a kitchen garden. Initially, seeds of brinjal, bitter gourd, tomato and chilli were distributed. In the first year itself, the outcome was exceptional, with 80 functional kitchen gardens in place.

In 2021, seeds of raddish, coriander, spinach, fenugreek and lal cholai were distributed. Seeing the benefits of the kitchen gardens, more people got inspired and came forward to ask us for seeds. The number has more than doubled and as of today, we have 200 vaatikas in our ten villages, combined.


  1. We received a lot of responses from people saying that because of eating good quality, organic vegetables, they don’t fall sick as often as they used to, earlier. Women also mentioned that the weakness they used to feel, has fairly subsided. Alongside, 5-7% of women who fell under high risk pregnancy category, have now become relatively healthy because of better eating patterns.
  2. There have been additional financial benefits of kitchen gardens. People have been selling the surplus produce in the markets, to generate steady income.
  3. Initially, when people were selling wheat and grams, the profit levels were quite low because of high competition in the market. After growing organic cash crops like tomato, chilli and brinjal, they have stable money, and hence, they don’t have to take loans from external sources for any medical or financial emergency.
  4. The villagers have ended up saving money (at least 800-1000 per month) because they don’t have to go to the weekly markets to buy vegetables anymore and even if they do, onions and potatoes are all that they require.
  5. Being a tribal community, people depend on a variety of forest-based livelihoods and produce, including collection and sale of firewood. It is an extremely challenging task because the market where this wood is sold is at least 20-30 kms away and lack of transportation facilities forced them to walk with 50kgs of wood on their heads. People whose kitchen gardens seemed fruitful (quite literally) and financially promising, have slowly moved away from this occupation. This is a big success not only for the community but for our entire team.
Vimla Bai* showing off her produce of organic tomatoes before she leaves for the weekly Amanganj market to sell them


  1. Living in a village inside the tiger reserve means an imminent threat of wild animals, like stray cows and wild boars who frequently eat and destroy the crops.
  2. This was the first time a lot of people were venturing into gardening and growing vegetables. As a result, it was challenging to pick up the skill set required to have a functional kitchen garden.ƒ
  3. Since it’s a drought prone area, it is fairly difficult to water the crops. In regions where water scarcity is not an issue, there are different sources for water based needs. For example, one source for drinking water, one for irrigation and in some cases, one for daily use like washing utensils, clothes etc. However, that is barely the case here. On asking a woman as to why her kitchen garden is not showing any results, she said, “Paani peeye ya phir sabjiyo mein dale, aap hi batao?

The kitchen garden initiative, along with all its tangible results, has also led to behavioral change in the community. They understand the importance of nutrition a little better and the kids have more than just matha-chawal on their plates. The meals are coloured with red hues of lal cholai and leafy greens. The occupation trajectory has taken a curve and in some cases, firewood is now collected only to make food at home.

A few people told us that they’d continue with the kitchen gardens and farming even if they stop receiving support from Koshika. To quote my teammate, “Unhone ek beej khet mein boya hai, jiske phal ko voh aaj kha rahe hai, bech rahe hai. Kheti ka beej humne unke vyavhaar mein bo diya hai. Voh jahan kahi bhi honge, unko humari zaroorat nahi hai. Iss kaam ko woh khud aage leke jaaenge.

*Name changed to maintain confidentiality

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